Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014
The University of Western Australia welcomes the opportunity to make the following submission to the Education and Employment Senate Committee as part of its inquiry into the provisions of the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill (2014).
The University of Western Australia (UWA) was founded more than 100 years ago as the state's first university. Its aim then, and now, is to advance the welfare of its community. UWA is already ranked in the top one per cent of the world's universities, but our goal is to be recognised as one of the world's top 50, for education as well as research and community engagement. In August 2014, the internationally recognised Academic Ranking of World Universities, ranked UWA 88th in the world, and fourth in Australia.
The University is an active member of the Group of Eight and Universities Australia, and is supportive of the views each of these peak bodies have expressed to the Committee in their submissions.
The Senate Committee's inquiry into the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill (2014) provides an important opportunity to consider publicly the future direction of higher education in this country.
Consideration must be given to how we will create a truly world class higher education system by training and teaching the minds of the future, partnering globally to help solve the challenges facing society today and into the future, and building an innovative and highly skilled country and workforce.
This discussion comes at an important time for the sector as we face a number of emerging challenges and opportunities created through increased global competition, the emergence of new disruptive technologies, funding uncertainty (including from government sources) and changing community and stakeholder expectations about the impact of our efforts.
The University of Western Australia shares the Go8's view that the current policy and funding settings for higher education and research are not sustainable or effective. This is a view shared across Australia's 39 public universities.
While Australia has a good higher education system with four universities, including UWA, ranked amongst the world's top 100, according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), the limited comparative data available suggests we underperform compared to many of our global competitors.
Data by the Australian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE) and its North American counterpart the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) shows that on average, US students find their study more academically challenging than Australian students do. Australian students report lower levels of contact with teaching staff and are less likely to have participated in "enriching educational experiences". Fifty-three per cent of US students had participated in a practicum, internship, fieldwork or clinical placement, while only 28% of Australian students had had a similar experience.
"Hard analysis shows that our rhetoric is better than our performance. Australian higher education is not bad but it is not yet brilliant. To build an education system that is brilliant, we have to stop funding universities the same way regardless of how they teach. We have to stop the endless per-student funding cuts to higher education." Young, I (2014) National Press Club Address 30 July
The Government is seeking to deliver what can be regarded as the most sweeping changes to Australia's higher education system by removing price barriers on universities, opening the market to new competition, and delivering more choice to students.
The University of Western Australia is broadly in favour of the Government's higher education reform package. UWA believes that the changes, if implemented, will allow universities across the country to differentiate and play to their strengths, provide greater choice to students by opening up the higher education market to new competitors, offering differing price points, and ensuring there is appropriate and sustainable investment in teaching, research and community engagement activities.
"Whilst we claim to ‘punch above our weight' in research, we do not out-perform the countries with an embedded scientific culture that we might aspire to match such as the Western European democracies, Scandinavia or the US and Canada. We can and should aim higher." Chubb, I (2014)STEM: Australia's Future
UWA accepts that the status quo is not sustainable as it will over time erode the quality of our education and research activities - not a good position to be in when our nearest Asian competitors are investing heavily in these areas. The Minister for Education, the Hon. Christopher Pyne, has correctly acknowledged that universities in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore are rapidly improving their position in world rankings. Five years ago there were no Chinese universities in the top 200; now there are six. With $250 billion a year being invested in Chinese universities, UWA believes it is only a matter of time before these universities enter the top 100, placing further competitive pressure on the leading Australian institutions.
The Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill has many elements and is therefore complicated. UWA, along with other universities, has carefully considered all aspects of the Bill and how it will impact on the sector.
The key aspects which UWA supports are: